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For the 8,500 Local Kids Left Behind, Prison Takes its Toll

Bullying, trust issues, poverty—those are some of the problems that can affect a child whose parent is incarcerated.

The results come from a report released today by a Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation (PCGF) initiative examining how parental incarceration impacts a child.

According to the report, 2.7 million children in the U.S., including 100,000 in Pennsylvania, have a parent or parents in prison.  In Allegheny County, there are 8,500 children who are separated from one or both parents because of imprisonment.

The report also finds that 12-15 percent of children in Allegheny County will have a parent go to prison.

But Charlotte Brown, President of the PCGF Board of Trustees, said the parental incarceration trend seems to be slowing.

“For the first time in 40 years, the steep rise in numbers of children whose parents are incarcerated has begun to level off. However, the work is not complete, but systems are changing.”

One change has been in jail release policies. Brown said prior to the reforms, inmates were released between the hours of 2 and 4 in the morning in the clothes they were arrested in without resources to get home.

“A formal discharge center opened in the jail in March 2011. People are now released between 8 AM and 9 PM, and judges have modified their release orders to facilitate the center’s work,” Brown said.

Protecting children of inmates

Allegheny County Family Court Judge Kim Berkeley Clark said in some courtrooms protecting children has been an uphill battle.

“We still have, sadly, judges and others who feel that people are incarcerated and children should not be visiting jails and prisons and should not have contact with their parents,” Clark said.

Clark has been involved with the PCGF initiative since 2005 and created a task force to protect children from the trauma of having a parent or parents arrested.

Initiative nears its end, work remains

This was the third report released by this initiative since 2003. The program, by design, ends this year. However, partners continue to build a county-wide commitment to increase public safety and protect children from the consequences of arresting and imprisoning their parents.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Allegheny County is among the leaders in programming that ensures people leaving jail are successfully integrated into their family and community.

“When we invest in connecting and helping people come out of jail, you know, we know for every one dollar invested, there’s a six dollar return or a six dollar savings,” he said. “Because if we don’t do this investment, if we don’t reconnect the people who are incarcerated, they end up going right back in again.”